Fatigue! It's Catching.

So, in this morning's Mug I included this stat, to get people thinking a bit about the Brewers' catching situation:

Johnny Estrada, April 2007: .312/.346/.455
Johnny Estrada, May 2007: .236/.244/.449

Jason Kendall, April 2008: .301/.366/.398
Jason Kendall, May 2008: .224/.314/.290

The Brewers have what I consider to be a disturbing trend going on with their catchers, dating back to last season, but also visible during the Damian Miller era: They play their starting catchers a lot, often to the point of impacting their performance. Last year, despite being unavailable for some significant stretches of time, Estrada caught more innings than all but 7 NL catchers. He caught nearly everyday despite being nearly unable to move in August and September.

Make no mistake, Jason Kendall is catching a lot this season too. Consider this list: the top 10 NL Catchers by percentage of team innings caught.

Jason Kendall, 88.6%
Brian McCann, 88.1%
Russell Martin, 86.7%
Geovany Soto, 85.2%
Yadier Molina, 79.3%
Bengie Molina, 76.0%
Paul Bako, 71.8%
Chris Snyder, 70.0%
Josh Bard, 70.0%
J.R. Towles, 64.0%

An important note regarding this list: Brian McCann is 24. Martin and Soto are 25. In fact, there's only three catchers on this list over 30: Bako (37), Kendall (34) and Bard (30).

There were only five catchers in the National League who caught 1000 innings last season. Kendall is on pace to catch 1282. That's more than any NL backstop caught in 2007, and it'd be the second highest total of his career. Again, he's 34 years old and has already caught over 14,000 innings. Maybe this would all be irrelevant if he was hitting. But as I mentioned above, there's a visible decline in play. His OPS is down over 150 points in May. And he's still got 4 full months of catching nearly every day ahead of him.

At the same time, he has a capable backup. Mike Rivera battled it out in spring training and beat out an established major league catcher (Eric Munson) and a fan favorite (Vinny Rottino) to earn the right to wear his catcher's gear just 8 times and get just 25 plate appearances in the opening 47 games. It's hard to imagine he's having any luck staying sharp when he's playing less than once per week. But he's still 7-for-24, hitting 27 points better than Kendall.

I don't think one can make an argument that Rivera should play every day, or even that a 50/50 split is in order. I like Kendall's contributions to this team, and I've bought into the hype on his defensive skills and game-calling abilities. I have one simple recommendation that I think would keep Kendall stronger and healthier, keep Rivera getting consistent plate appearances and give the team the best chance to win:

When Manny Parra starts, Mike Rivera should too. This is win-win all around. It gives Kendall consistent rest, Rivera consistent plate appearances, and it gives Parra a familiar catcher to throw to as he works to improve his game at the big league level. Parra has a 4.09 ERA this season when pitching to Rivera, and a 4.50 ERA when pitching to Kendall. Plus, Rivera caught Parra's perfect game in AAA last season.

What do you think?

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